June 16, 2004 -- The latest scam in online banking may have you falling hook, line and sinker the next time you enter sensitive banking information into your computer while on the Internet. America's tech-savvy thieves' newest method of attack is called "phishing," and, according to research released by Gartner Inc., it has cost Americans more than $2.4 billion so far.

"We've seen this explode over the past six months," Avivah Litan, vice president and research director at Gartner, said.

It is not known exactly how many ways these compu-crooks get their victims' bank information, but according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, they might have several ways. One way phishers catch their victims is by sending out forged e-mails encouraging customers to use a provided link in order to verify personal information.

By establishing a fraudulent Web site, phishers may then send the unsuspecting victim to a site that looks and feels authentic, but is really just a device used to record the personal information entered. When the victim types in his or her username and password, it delivers that information directly into the hands of the phishers, giving them "the keys to your kingdom," said Litan.

The Anti Phishing Group advises consumers to be extremely cautious of e-mails containing links which look suspicious and also warn that when typing in sensitive information, always look for the small lock in the lower corner of the web browser, which indicates the transmission is protected.

The group also suggests that if you feel you might have been caught by phishers, report the incident to your institution as soon as possible, as most banks have comprehensive policies in place to protect customers from on-line fraud. For more information about phishing, visit http://www.antiphishing.org.